In the second installment of Live in Front of a Studio Audience, ABC once again recreated an episode of All in the Family but added a modern-retelling of a classic Good Times episode as well. Production designer Bernard Vyzga recently spoke with PopCulture.com about what went into making that happen.
Vyzga admitted that while he didn't have a lot of experience in live television, he does have a history of standard three-camera sitcoms. He started work as an art director on Who's the Boss and Married with Children, continuing with his work as a production designer on modern shows including Last Man Standing. As he explained, the first installment of Live, "theme songs were integrated into the existing set," like Archie and Edith Bunker sitting at their piano. Much like his approach to recreating the Good Times set, Vyzga's aim was less about accuracy and more about capturing the overall spirit.
To do this, a set was built just for the theme song, as well as a smaller one for Martin Short, who came out and started belting out the theme to The Facts of Life. Short's set then "had to be struck within the body of the show on a commercial break." Then, another set was built for the Good Times theme, which was performed by Patti LaBelle and Anthony Anderson.
"The concept I came up with, [along] with Andy Fisher's original creative idea was to recreate the opening stock elements of the Good Times opening credits," Vyzga said. "You went from wide shot Chicago to closer shots and then you saw Cabrini-Green, the public housing, and then you went to a closeup of the windows of the apartment and we sort of created these moving panels that gave you the sense of that the big Good Times graphic for a background," he continued. "Then part of the opening to reveal the gospel chorus. So it became a theatrical way presented a theme song."
It ended up working to great effect, thanks in part to the surprise appearance of LaBelle. "I think that audience loves seeing a well-known singer do these old classic theme songs that we all have buzzing around in our head because it just burned into our memory," Vyzga said. "And to see a famous performer come in and do that classic theme song, it was really fun for the audience."
Vyzga also mentioned the fact that while both installments of Live stuck to the original scripts, for the most part, the issues talked about on these sitcoms back in the 1970s were still relevant today. "It's amazing going through Good Times," Vyzga added. "I watched quite a few episodes and I thought, 'Oh my god, these scripts are just as good 40 years later,' and unfortunately a lot of the social issues that aren't and tackled and Good Times and The Jeffersons and All in the Family are still with us. I mean we're still fighting a lot of the same battles for equity and fairness and fair treatment of women. It's amazing."